East Sussex Fire Authority (ESFA) carefully considered the decision to continue with the long-standing plan to consult the public and stakeholders on the draft Integrated Risk Management Plan 2020 – 2025 at its meeting on the 23rd April 2020. In fact, the work on the plan and for the public consultation has been underway for around 18 months and the suggestion that it has been ‘sneaked through” under the cover of the pandemic is simply untrue.
It’s also important to clarify that the Authority have a statutory duty to put in place a revised plan, under the `National Framework’, and the current one expires this year.
The implications of holding a consultation during the current situation and the counter impact of the Service being able to operate effectively and protect the public if it was delayed had to be weighed up and considered. Indeed, in light of the COVID19 pandemic, the Service has substantially enhanced our usual consultation and communication plans, and, as well as following the Government guidance, sought advice from consultation experts. This year we are also adding a 10,000 direct mail-out to households where we know they are less likely to engage online; and using telephone surveys for the first time. Due to these additional arrangements, we are expecting a higher response rate than in previous consultations.
Extensive work by Service advisers, analysts and staff has been invested to develop these proposals, looking carefully at the risks in the community across the whole of the county. We do not share the FBU’s opinions on these proposals, although we understand their focus is to protect their members from any impacts. We would like to encourage everyone to consider the facts and data from 9 years of incidents that is set out in the detailed report and have their say in this consultation. The conclusion is that we need to move our resources, so that we better match them to the risks we have and enhance capacity in other areas such as building fire safety work.
It’s important to note that our proposals will keep all our 24 fire stations open and increase the number of fire engines in Hastings and Eastbourne, as well as critically ensuring we increase our minimum number of fire engines available at the start of a day from a minimum of 15 (or less) to 18 under these proposals in order to improve resilience.
We want to stress that all our fire stations will have at least one fire engine. The proposals are to remove 7 “second” fire engines which are in low risk areas and which have a very low number of call outs. For example, at the lowest end of the scale, the second fire engine at Battle only attended 13 incidents in a year. This does not represent good use of resources.
We are not looking to ‘cut” the resources released, although some efficiency will be achieved, but the proposals will free resources to allow us to reinvest in new fire engines and a new high reach vehicle in Hastings and Eastbourne.
Furthermore, we are improving the contracts for many of our on-call (part-time) staff to ensure we can improve cover and availability to keep more fire engines available, particularly in rural areas, providing an improved service to our communities.
The longer-term impact of Covid 19 won’t be known for some considerable time and as the months pass, we will of course assess any new information or requirements which may emerge, but we don't anticipate significant change in the short term. The draft proposals are to ensure that both the Fire Authority and East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service will be strongly placed to effectively deal with the inherent and anticipated risks for the future and over the next five-year term.